Failure of leadership

| Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on January 06, 2017

Sexual harassment in the workplace cannot be tackled by legislation alone. It needs cultural change

A recent survey by the Indian National Bar Association threw up a shocking statistic: nearly 70 per cent of female victims of sexual harassment in the workplace refrain from lodging a complaint — mostly due to fear, embarrassment and a lack of confidence in the system’s ability and willingness to address the issue. The sexual harassment of women at workplaces is commonplace, but regrettably, managements continue to be in a state of denial. In organisations where there is some acknowledgement of the menace, committees set up to address complaints remain more or less dormant. Most businesses do not consider sexual harassment a serious offence and tend to sweep complaints under the carpet. In many instances, women are blamed for their male colleagues’ unacceptable behaviour. Very few companies and firms in this country have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual predators. About 38 per cent of the women contacted for the survey admitted facing sexual harassment at the workplace; a staggering 65 per cent said their company did not follow the process laid under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. Even more distressing, nearly half of those surveyed said members of the internal committee were not aware of the sections and the legal provisions available under the Act.

Clearly, the situation has hardly changed on the ground despite comprehensive legislation, the issuance of Supreme Court-dictated guidelines to deal with offences and crimes of a sexual nature as well as the support expressed by India Inc on the issue. Corporates, both small and big, have to ensure a cultural change if their women employees are to feel confident enough to report sexual misdemeanour. They need to adopt and implement policies that spare no one — from the highest ranking executive and board members to errand boys. Regular communication of action taken against offenders would serve as a deterrent but care must be taken to protect the identities of those involved. That may encourage more women to come forward. All this cannot happen without the leadership setting an example.

It is also important that every employee of an organisation be given a clear understanding of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour. Misuse of provisions of the law, often out of vindictiveness, must also be prevented. Organisations stand to gain by creating a healthy work atmosphere where men and women can be equal-opportunity professional partners, and more women join the workforce.

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Published on January 06, 2017
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